So far, only a small amount of the estiamted 3-4-acre site has been excavated. Photo: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Untouched since 1780s, Revolutionary War Barracks Uncovered at Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg has been a piece of living, immersive history for generations of visitors, and many in the Bay region recall long-ago field trips to learn about colonial times. Amazingly, the foundation is still finding never-before-discovered sites every year.

Most recently, archaeologists were checking a property poised for construction when they found evidence of a rare Revolutionary War barracks right on Colonial Williamsburg Foundation property.

The property, not far from the Colonial Williamsburg Regional Visitor Center, was chosen as the preferred location of a regional indoor sports center. But the proposed construction project couldn’t be finalized until the Historic Triangle Recreational Facilities Authority (HTRFA) conducted archaeological excavation to “ensure that invaluable archaeological artifacts are not destroyed by new construction.”

It turned out that there were, indeed, invaluable archaeological artifacts on the site. Experts believe they have found a continental Army barracks that was occupied from 1777 to 1781.

Historians already knew there was likely a barracks somewhere in the area. Eighteenth-century maps of the area and numerous documents from the period reference a barracks constructed in 1776-1777 to accommodate up to 2,000 soldiers and 100 horses.

A military belt buckle unearthed from the barracks site.

But Colonial Williamsburg had not found physical evidence of one, until the site excavation in the summer of 2023. At that point, HTRFA archaeologists found bricks and artifacts from the mid-1700s and intact chimney bases. Artifacts that point to a military barracks include gun hardware and lead shot with toothmarks, which apparently came about when bored soldiers chewed on them because the lead was sweet.

There were also high-end ceramics and personal accessories indicating the barracks were occupied by officers. A beautiful blue glass button, a belt buckle and a lead musket ball are all hints of the military officers that likely stayed there.

Historians believe the barracks was ultimately destroyed in 1781 when General Corwallis’s troops set it on fire on their route to Yorktown.

So far, only a small percentage of the estimated three- to four-acre-large barracks site has been excavated. A significant portion of the site has been undisturbed since the barracks were destroyed more than 240 years ago. This discovery gives Colonial Williamsburg the opportunity to study Williamsburg’s Revolutionary War involvement and shed light on the daily lives of soldiers and officers.

The proposed indoor sports center’s footprint has now been shifted to preserve the site for more excavation and research. The barracks site will remain covered up to preserve the artifacts during construction of the sports complex.

We won’t be surprised if the site becomes an important part of the historical interpretation of Williamsburg in the American Revolution.